Broadcast of a Caller’s Telephone Number and Name in Breach of Code of Ethics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, November 16, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of two episodes of the morning show Le p’tit monde à Frenchie on CJMS-AM, the first on January 6 and the second on January 10.  During the first episode, on which a caller identified himself as “Johnny” (not his true name, as listeners later learned), there was an exchange in which the caller had some disagreement with the hosts.  After the call was suddenly disconnected, “Frenchie”, apparently miffed, gave the caller’s number out on the air.  Four days later, another listener called up and provided “Johnny”’s real name.  The complainant, whose identity and phone number had been revealed, was troubled that the station had not employed the necessary means to avoid the occurrence. 

In its written dialogue with the complainant, the station had placed some of the responsibility on the shoulders of the caller, who asked in a subsequent e-mail if providing one’s own opinion and disagreeing with the hosts is the equivalent of a provocation.  On that issue, the Quebec Regional Panel agreed with the complainant.  It explained its rationale in the following terms: 

The hosts, after all, control the microphone and have the power to cut off callers who may become abusive and inappropriate; they do have an obligation to ensure responsibility on their part and that of callers.  Even if the caller had been particularly unpleasant during his call, and the Panel finds that that was not the case, that would not have given rise to the tit-for-tat actions that Jarraud and Daigneault took.  As the complainant asked in his letter, rather simply and dispassionately, is the expression of one’s opinion and the opening of a dialogue with open-line show hosts the equivalent of a provocation?  In the view of the Quebec Panel, it is not, in general, a provocation and was decidedly not in this case.  The bottom line is that those possessed of the power of the microphone have the responsibility to use that power with discretion and responsibility. 

In revealing the telephone number of the complainant, apparently for the purpose of inviting listeners to call and harass him, CJMS breached the private broadcasters’ codified standards.  As the Panel said, 

There was no justification whatsoever for co-hosts Jarraud and Daigneault to permit the telephone number of the complainant to be revealed on the airwaves.  While they would have been responsible had the revelation come from the lips of a third party, their decision to broadcast the information was entirely their own.  The publicly-licensed airwaves are not available for privately-vindictive comments.

As the Panel also pointed out, the broadcast of a caller’s name, without other identifying information, is not necessarily problematic or in breach of any codified standards; however, the 

issue becomes a problem when the purpose is not benign, as was the case in the broadcast of January 10.  The name was not broadcast in connection with the complainant’s call.  It was aired four days later by what can only be characterized as a gratuitous or malevolent gesture (and could have been connected with the telephone number given on the January 6 broadcast by anyone inclined to make that connection).  There was absolutely no purpose for the on-air identification of the complainant.  Whether “Jeannine” revealed the purpose of her call to the program producer or screener or deceived them in that regard, the hosts ought not to have permitted that information to go to air.  Whether they were sloppy or did not have the technical means to apply is not the problem of the complainant.  It is the problem of the station.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 550 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council. 

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab